County residents and developers may have to wait until next year to find out what rules will apply under a proposed adequate facilities ordinance being considered by the County Council.
The ordinance, which requires developers to make sure roads, schools and water and sewer service can adequately service population increases brought on by new subdivisions, is expected to be enacted in some form Oct. 29.
No one, not even developers, doubts that an adequate facilities law will become a reality someday soon -- the question is how and when.
The six-part legislation proposed by the Bobo administration is too restrictive, developers say, and would also apply retroactively in some cases.
Developers are asking the council to "grandfather," or provide waivers for, any project that has been given preliminary approval by the county's planning office.
County planning director Uri Avin says those kinds of exceptions are unnecessary. He says his department has done "an extensive amount of testing" and found that of 17 projects tested for road adequacy, nine met the test; of 10 projects tested for school adequacy, five passed.
The fact that half the projects tested passed the tests written into the proposed law makes it clear that the restrictions "would not shut the county down," as some developers have charged, Avin said.
However, the fact that half the projects failed indicates the proposed legislation "has teeth, has impact" and that there are parts of the county in which the roads and schools are not adequate, Avin said.
The tests show that "we are not in a crisis or in dire straits," Avin said, "but in a situation than can worsen."
A worsening situation is exactly what many groups of area residents fear.
Joyce Kelly, president of the approximately 200-member Howard County Citizens' Association, urged the council to pass the legislation "now" and without change. She said the ordinance could become a model for other cities.
"We urge that grandfathering and waivers not be allowed," she said. "It is not outrageous" to expect that adequate schools, roads and sewers should accompany new development.
If a developer cannot meet the test imposed by the proposed ordinance, the law affords several options, Avin said -- scaling back the project, joining with other developers to provide the needed facilities, or deferring the project until such time as the developer is able to make the needed improvements.
The 40-page bill and the design manuals accompanying it are "lengthy and comprehensive," doing in "one shot what many counties have taken 15 years to evolve," Avin said. "It spells out a host of issues and puts a limit on administrative discretion."
It is exactly that lack of discretion -- or flexibility -- that has developers concerned. Several objected Monday that builders who expected to expand their projects in later years as businesses grew would be penalized under the proposed bill.
Council member Angela Beltram, D-2nd, responded that the purpose of the proposed legislation is to provide adequate facilities regardless of whether a development is entirely new or an enlargement of one already completed.
The council met in a five and one-half hour work session Tuesday afternoon in an attempt to fine-tune the legislation.
The night before, some 70 people had signed up to testify on the adequate facilities proposal. However, only 13 were heard prior to the midnight cutoff. The remainder will not be heard until tonight, when hearings resume.
Some who were unable to voice their concerns Monday night said they feared that the council was predisposed to a course of action Oct. 29 regardless of what they may say tonight.
Council Chairman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said nothing could be further from the truth. She said the council will hold another work session on the bill Oct. 22 and that it will not pass legislation relating to the manuals until after the Nov. 6 election. It probably will pass some sort of "enabling" legislation Oct. 29, however, that would pave the way for the manuals.
Because the council is prohibited from holding a November legislative session in an election year, the earliest the council could enact a bill dealing with the specifics of an adequate facilities bill would be December.
A February date is more likely since a majority of council members see no need to have an adequate facilities ordinance in place prior to March, when the administration's 18-month ceiling on housing construction expires.